Who Was Robin Hood?

By | August 15, 2019

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Outlaw and folk hero Robin Hood and his Merry Men entertain King Richard the Lionheart in Sherwood Forest. Painted in 1839. Artist dates: 1806 - 1870. Source: (Photo by Daniel Maclise Fine Art Photographic/Getty Images)

The legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men have had an enduring legacy upon history starting with English folklore and continuing with the latest iteration of the bandit on television and cinema. For over half a millennia, scholars have argued over the historicity of Robin Hood with a variety of different takes on the subject.

Regardless if he is real or not, the green-clad folk hero’s hold on culture and imagination has been an inspiration for the ages. The motif of a simple, but just and happy warrior who fights against an oppressive government to bring aid to those being oppressed speaks as much to people today as it did during the High Middle Ages.

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Robin Hood Reenactor. Source: (Wikimedia)

First Appearances

The first known reference to Robin Hood is found in an alliterative Middle English poem titled “Piers Plowman” by William Langland. Written in the late 14th century, the poem only makes a passing reference to “Robyn Hood.” A translation of the text reads: “Although I can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer, I do know the rhymes of Robin Hood.” Since this line was in the poem spoken by a commoner and it refers to common rhymes, scholars believe that the traditional tales of Robin Hood were developing as early as the 12th century.

There is little evidence pointing to a specific person who was Robin Hood. This does not necessarily mean that there wasn’t a real Robin Hood and that he wasn’t a figment of the popular imagination or the creation of a balladeer. The name Robin is a diminutive of Robert which was a very common name in the middle ages. The surname “Hood” was also common and referred to a maker of hoods or more significantly as a person who wore hoods. Since outlaws were prone to wear hoods to disguise their identity existing criminal records of the Middle Ages refer to “Robert Hood” or “Robin Hood” for different persons who have violated the laws. Historians have identified other candidates for a real Robin Hood, but none of these holds up to complete scrutiny. It is the general consensus that there wasn’t a real Robin Hood.